Reimbursable loan keeps nearly 200 Riverside workers on payroll

  • Matt Sosik, president and CEO of bankESB, stands with Char Gentes, president and CEO of Riverside Industries. Contributed Photo—

Staff Writer
Published: 4/12/2020 6:12:20 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Thanks to a federally guaranteed and reimbursable Paycheck Protection Program loan through bankESB, Riverside Industries will continue to be able to pay its staff, even as its facility at 1 Cottage St. remains shuttered.

“It’s going to allow us to pay our employees for eight weeks and to pay their health insurance,” said Char Gentes, president and CEO of Riverside Industries.

Riverside Industries is a nonprofit whose mission is to empower people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Although it closed its physical location on March 16 as part of efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, it has continued to serve its clients.

Riverside Industries has helped to aid some of its clients in applying for unemployment, and has shared safety information with them about measures to take to avoid infection by the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. An exercise class over the videoconference application Zoom is also in the works.

“We’re re-creating ourselves,” Gentes said.

Riverside Industries has more than 250 clients and nearly 200 employees.

For four weeks, the nonprofit has continued to pay its workers, despite getting reduced funding from the state due to shutting down its physical location. Under normal circumstances, Gentes said that seven-eighths of the nonprofit’s budget comes from state funding.

Continuing to pay all its employees, Gentes said, is “the right thing to do,” adding that a lot of the organization’s employees live paycheck to paycheck. “These are human service workers who need us to stand behind them.”

Riverside Industries owns Cottage Street Studios, in the same building where it is based, and its tenants there have continued to pay rent. Although a rent reduction has been offered to those who need it, Gentes said, many tenants have chosen not to take it.

The Paycheck Protection Program loan Riverside Industries received Thursday came from Easthampton Savings Bank, with the money guaranteed under the federal program.

The bank, Gentes said, helped the nonprofit navigate the application process and get the application in swiftly.

“We needed to clarify exactly what numbers they needed,” Gentes said.

Matt Sosik, president and CEO of bankESB, said that the loan to Riverside was the first PPP loan that bankESB has delivered. However, he said that Hometown Financial Group, which the bank is a part of, is processing more than 600 applications for such loans, and is set to inject more than $100 million into the economy as a result.

Sosik aid that providing money so that Riverside can pay its employees is “exactly what this program is designed to do.”

“It’s a huge huge positive impact,” he said.

Gentes declined to give the full amount of the loan. However, if all of it is used for payroll and benefits for employees, as the nonprofit currently plans, Gentes and Sosik said the amount will be forgiven, as per the program’s guidelines. The bank would then be reimbursed by the federal government.

Gentes said that in the best-case scenario, Riverside Industries will open its physical location up again after eight weeks, and start receiving its full state funding again. But even if that happens, Gentes said, paying its employees for the past four weeks while receiving less money has left a budget hole, and the organization will need to raise money to cover it.

Should the physical location not reopen after eight weeks, Gentes said, Riverside will be appealing to its donors, and looking at additional grants and loans.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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